Fr. Leo Coughlin
On January 23 2017, I lost a close friend of over 2 decades, Father Leo Coughlin. It was an unlikely friendship between a Catholic priest and a lifelong atheist; two decidedly different views and viewpoints but our common ground outweighed it all and we had many interesting, and philosophical discussions. We talked about everything and anything; the conversations were full of laughter and spontaneity, and we each agreed that the other was misguided in their beliefs but respected them nevertheless.
At lunch, one day, in a favorite Thai restaurant of ours, the waitress came over and said to Leo, “i know you. You’re from Christ the King.” Leo replied, “Yes, I’m the Reverend Leo and this is my friend, the irreverent Michael.” I howled with laughter and, whenever I called him, I would always say “This is the Irreverent Michael” and he would chuckle and agree.
After his stroke, I would visit him as often as I could, and we would chat until he could talk to more. He was always interested in what I was doing, although the technicalities of my world were hard for him to grasp. When it was time for me to leave, he would grasp my hand and say “Thanks for stopping by, you godless heathen” to which I would always beam with enjoyment.
Leo was a true Renaissance man; he was multi-talented and I had the privilege of hearing him sing, with that magnificent voice of his, and playing the guitar. He also wrote some of the most comedic stuff I’ve ever read, was a wonderful storyteller, and could mimic anybody with incredible accuracy. He told me the story of how he met, and spent some time with, the Beatles. Listening to that story (which I managed to capture on video when he visited us in France), if you close your eyes you will imagine that you are hearing the Beatles themselves talking.
I was fortunate enough to be living in Las Vegas for the last 4 months of his life and was able to spend a considerable amount of time with him, for which I consider myself to be truly blessed. It was sad to see him so frail when he had been so full of life but he bore his illness with great fortitude and never seemed to let it affect his spirit.
His last few weeks were full of pain and discomfort and we all knew that he didn’t have long left. He was ready to go, and I am glad that his suffering is over but I will miss him nevertheless. Most of all, I will never forget his wit and sense of humor.
P.S. His close friend, companion and caregiver, Dr. Roisin O’Loughlin, asked me if I would be one of the pall bearers at Leo’s funeral. Of course, I agreed although I hadn’t set foot in a church for decades. The church was packed to capacity with over 500 people who had come to pay their respects. As I was sitting there, dressed to the nines in a dark suit, I was watching the congregation and thinking that Leo must be rolling over in his grave with laughter seeing me, an atheist, surrounded by hordes of the holy.
Rest in peace, my friend.